Call it “the Nikki-Dee effect.”
Not that the amiable, attractive meteorologist on WTVR’s CBS 6 This Morning news program deserves all of the credit for its recent bump in the ratings. But management behind the local morning news show does point to the broadcast team’s latest addition as one of several reasons why it last month claimed the top spot for its time slot, unseating perennial market leader WWBT NBC12 in morning news ratings for the first time in two decades.
The CBS affiliate announced the feat in a release last week, citing data from consumer tracking firm Nielsen that said its morning news show brought in a 4.6 household rating and 17 household share in November for the 4:30-7 a.m. bracket, edging out WWBT’s 4.4 rating and 15 share.
The release says the last time WWBT was overtaken in total audience ratings for the morning news bracket was 22 years ago, in 1994, when WTVR topped its local rival by 1 rating point.
The station attributes the recent result to several factors, including an expansion of its morning news coverage to 4:30 a.m., an increase in overall morning viewership, and the on-air chemistry of the morning news team: station veterans and co-anchors Rob Cardwell and Reba Hollingsworth, traffic reporter Kristen Luehrs and meteorologist Nikki-Dee Ray.
But it was the addition of Ray nearly two years ago that station president and general manager Stephen Hayes said made the show a complete package.
“We had a really good team in place – Rob and Reba and Kristen have had a strong following – but it was like she was the final piece of the puzzle that really brought it together,” Hayes said. “She really is just how she comes across: she’s vibrant, she’s full of life, and that really resonates.”
The business significance of the ratings win is in the value that advertisers place on that time slot, said Hayes, who has served as WTVR’s general manager since 2010. He joined the station in 2001 after more than a decade at local ABC affiliate WRIC.
“As that audience grows, we can demand a higher rate. As it decreases, it’s the reverse effect,” he said. “We’re able to get a higher value because there’s more audience there.”
Declining to share exact numbers, Hayes said WTVR brings in upwards of $25 million in annual revenue from advertising and other sources. With its landmark 1,000-foot-tall tower that rises above its studios at 3301 W. Broad St., the station reaches viewers as far as Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Tidewater and the North Carolina state line and beyond, according to its website.
Owned by Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting, the 68-year-old station – “The South’s First Television Station,” as its slogan states – employs about 150 people at its Broad Street studios, where it has broadcast since 1948.
About 20 of those employees are responsible for putting the morning news show on the air, including an executive producer, two newscast producers, two reporters and two photographers in the field, a director, and an eight- or nine-person production crew – in addition to the four on-air faces, Hayes noted.
“While the folks who are on-air get the credit, and they should,” Hayes said, “the producers who are writing it, the reporters who are out in the field and the production staff who really have to do a clean newscast are really important.”
Hayes also credited the station’s marketing department with promoting and conveying the on-air talent’s chemistry in promos. News director Sheryl Barnhouse said the chemistry between the on-air talent is unlike any she’s seen in 18 years at the station.
“When they’re on the air, you can tell that they’re having fun, they like each other, and it just resonates with the Richmond community,” she said.
Beyond the broadcast, Barnhouse said the group has also made an impression through involvements in the community – Ray in particular.
“They are all pretty active in the community, especially Nikki-Dee – she is involved in many different things,” Barnhouse said. “In her free time, she’s typically making an appearance on behalf of the station at an event.”
Barnhouse recruited Ray from Texas, where a colleague let Ray know of an upcoming meteorologist opening at WTVR. Barnhouse said she viewed Ray’s reel when she sent it in and was immediately interested.
“The energy and the enthusiasm that she has – anyone who would meet her in person would see it right off the bat, and I think she’s increased that level for the rest of the team as well,” she said.
Barnhouse called the on-air chemistry between the team a happy accident that isn’t easy to foresee.
“When you look at new people you’re bringing in, you look at their reel and you assess how you think that person is going to fit in with the rest of the team. I don’t think that we brought her in knowing that it was going to be what it is now with the four of them, so I would say it is a happy accident,” she said.
“I would give Sheryl a little more credit than that,” added Hayes. “However, you don’t know the chemistry until (it happens). There is a strategy and thought-process, but ultimately you don’t know how that’s going to work. So we’re fortunate.”